Saturday, March 23, 2013

Principles in a tote bag

"I think breaking from ideology to face reality and make decisions outside of any familiar framework is hugely difficult and risky and admirable."
This quote by my friend Meredith was in response to a question I asked after reading Matt Zwoklinski's post on whether the fact that there are exceptions for the rule "lying is wrong" in the real world could be transferable to to the rule "coercion is wrong": What would the implications be for libertarians?*

It got me thinking.

Breaking away from what seemed to be foregone conclusions of my beliefs is something I've been struggling through/playing with. When I was first considering whether a guaranteed minimum income might be "just," or at least OK, I would sort of punt the issue when it came up, suggesting that we deal first with problems that are obviously harmful and then argue about things that might be OK. But I think that discomfort with dismissing an idea outright is indicative of a certain level of comfort with that idea.

I bring up guaranteed minimum incomes as an example because when it is suggested that they are libertarian-compatible policy I see responses like “The author has forgotten her first principles. A guaranteed minimum income requires coercion!” That's a bit silly. We mustn't forget or discard the tenets of our philosophies to consider different conclusions. Far from it! I think you need to have a great deal of faith in your "first principles" to start testing them in earnest to see where they hold up.

It's not that I want to throw away my beliefs. It's just that I'd rather sling them over my shoulder than clutch them, white-knuckled, close to my heart. Even if it aches a bit sometimes, I want my hands free to play with other ideas. I don't think it would be such a bad thing if more of us gave that a shot.


*For the record, I think the implication is that there might be something other than coercion that we ought to weigh when determining what's OK, but that doesn't automatically lead to any particular conclusion.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rape, Autonomy, Respect, and Liberty

Sarah Skwire has a great post on rape culture over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians that has triggered the latest round of Internet libertarian backlash against the suggestion that we consider paying particular attention to rape and rape culture in the way that we call attention to things like drone strikes or drug war raids.

Libertarianism deals strictly with the role of government and does not prescribe which moral stands we ought to take individually.

In spite of this I'll join Sarah and argue that rape culture, though there is not a libertarian position, is an issue that ought to become a more common concern for libertarians (and anarchists, objectivists, classical liberals, etc.).

There is a reason that Adam Smith devoted a book to morality, and that Larry Reed speaks about the importance of character. Respect for one another's autonomy and dignity is crucial to the flourishing of a free society. Taken to the extreme, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary."

We can't be angels. That doesn't mean we shouldn't push for a freer society, but the further we drift from ideals like respect for one another the more government becomes not just necessary, but expansive. We make possible laws like those that allow people who "know better" to lock us in a cage for choosing to put a substance they disagree with into our body. If we want smaller government, we need to push for values like respect. We ought to strive for the good.

Rape culture gets called "anti-woman." The use of the term leads to accusations of being "anti-man." Rape culture, though, is neither. It is anti-victim. It is anti-autonomy. It is anti-dignity. It is a dark, ugly pattern. It is the recurrence of a failure to show mutual respect. That it is not only perpetuated by government does not mean libertarians shouldn't see that there's work to do building the respect for autonomy generally that's needed to maintain a free enough society to allow for autonomy in other ways we believe are important. 

"Rape culture" is, some have argued, too loaded a term - a claim also made about "feminism." (I'll suggest making a distinction: these words have been abused, but are not (yet) loaded.) But the labels are beside the point - libertarians cling to loaded words like "capitalism" and "selfishness" and tolerate abused words like "liberal," "discrimination," and "rights" all the time. We have the capacity to determine when they are misused. Tossing an idea because of its label is a mistake.

There are horrifying examples of  government and government funded institutions that protect rapists and cause more rape. These abuses of government power ought to be a concern for libertarians, who care about the consequences of broken, incompetent, and abusive government, as well as for anyone who cares about civil liberties and human dignity. This is an issue on which libertarians were not first movers and don't stand alone. That doesn't mean it's not important - it may even mean it's more important.

The issue of rape culture goes beyond the scope of government and as such it is not, strictly speaking, a libertarian issue. But libertarians sure ought to care about its causes. Rape culture doesn't have to replace our other issues, it's just a new one. To echo Sarah, each libertarian need not make this their issue, but it's time to accept it as a valid concern for libertarians. Why has the response seemed so much like reflexive pushback against something that's grounded in respect for the autonomy and dignity of the individual?

Sarah's asked it before. I'll ask now: Why aren't we angrier?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Politics and Civility

Further to my earlier post, as Leonard Read wrote in his beautiful book, Anything That's Peaceful (pages 69-70):
... observe two persons, with somewhat
different views, rationally discussing some subject of common
interest. Each offers the other his most intelligent
ideas, thus encouraging friendship and mutual confidence.
This setting, plus the privacy of the occasion, combine to
elicit from each the best that he has to offer. The exchange
of intellectual energies is mutually beneficial, and the
awareness of this fact encourages thinking and understanding.

Now, place these same two individuals on a stage before
a multitude, or place a microphone between them and announce
that 50 million people are listening in. Instantly,
their mental processes will change. Thoughtfulness and the
desire to understand each other will all but cease. No
longer will they function as receiving sets, drawing on the
expansible capacities of their own and each other's intellects.
They will become only sending stations; outgoing will
take the place of intaking. And what they say will be influenced
by how they think they sound to their audience
and by their competition for applause. In short, they will
become different persons because their psychological directives
have changed. Those who forego self-improvement
for the sake of directing the lives of others experience
changes in their drives no less profound than the above illustration.
The authoritarian act is always directed outward
at other persons.

This is what politics does to people.

This past weekend I attended the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa. It is a meeting of conservatives, not libertarians, but Institute for Liberal Studies executive director (disclosure: the boyfriend) Matt Bufton was invited to debate whether the government ought to get involved in "supporting the family," the ILS held three ideas-based talks, and I share Alexander McCobin's optimism that libertarians can work alongside the conservative movement on many issues (and social democrats/progressives on many others). So there we were, with bells on.

On Sunday morning after the conference had wrapped up, I noticed I'd been tagged in the following tweet:

How was Dr Rape Ron Paul? Great conservative gun toting crazy values
Note: Perhaps because it was early on the first day of daylight savings time but I did NOT see the use of "Rape" in the initial tweet or I would not have responded at all. 

After a weekend of outreach to people I typically find myself disagreeing with (and having missed the "rape" comment), I tried extending an olive branch by offering that while Ron Paul's speech was fairly standard, I had been happy to see an anti-war message presented at all at a conservative conference.

Obviously I hadn't read anything else by him - this guy is obviously just trying to troll conservatives, as evidenced herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here so maybe I shouldn't have responded to him at all, but I did a few times (you can see my responses in the conversations). I purposely did not look at the replies after I stopped responding.

That is, until today. When someone else tagged me I accidentally saw his last tweet. It was:

← Gun Supporting Crazy Conservaitive who does not mind getting raped By Ron Paul

Clicking on the image will take you to a link to the conversation.

This time I did not miss the much more direct rape reference. As many readers of this blog know, I have very strong feelings about contribution to rape culture. Rape is not a joke. I don't care that he doesn't like Ron Paul. I don't like Ron Paul. I don't care that he said this to me. But I do care that he think it's OK to have said something like this at all.

And I care that politics drives people to this point.

I don't know anything about "TheRealDamany," but I assume that in real life he's more or less a well-meaning guy. He seems to care about important issues that need caring about. He shares my displeasure with the Harper government. Glenn Greenwald as a mutual follow suggests we are both worried about issues like the drug war, torture, and the war on terror's effects on civil liberties. We're both concerned about institutionalized discrimination and poverty. I'll even bet in spite of it all we're both anti-war.

Sure, we disagree on some things, too, but I'd be willing to bet we agree on almost all the ends we're after. We only differ on the means.

But the tribal nature of politics makes us forget what's important. Politics allows and encourages us to dehumanize our opponents, or find other ways to excuse treating them as less than ourselves. Politics leads someone who claims to (and probably does) care about womens' rights to toss around the word "rape" and suggest his (female) opponents are asking for it.

Politics makes everything worse.


PS - Follow me on twitter! I'm unreasonably civil. ;)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Three Democratic myths used to demean the Paul filibuster

You may not know this, but I am merely weeks from completing the coursework for an MA, and as such I am drowning in work and have little time to write.

Have no fear, though, because Glenn Greenwald has written an excellent piece for you to read on the backlash by progressives and Democrats against Rand Paul's nearly thirteen hour long filibuster last week. He claims there are three main reasons progressives are failing to hold Obama to account for the massive expansion of executive power at the cost of American civil liberties and the lives of thousands of people abroad:
  1. An "empathy gap" by largely white, middle-class American voters for those who are least likely to be impacted by these policies at this time,
  2. A focus on the nonexistent claim that the reason to be worried is that an attack is imminent, and
  3. A false belief that the letter from Attorney General Eric Holder has put to bed the notion that assassination orders could be used on American citizens in a troubling way.
Read the whole thing here

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

I, Coke

Everyone ought to be familiar with Leonard Read's I, Pencil, the story of the incredibly complex web of human interaction and knowledge that goes into something as mundane as an ordinary #2 pencil.

I say everybody ought to read it because the world is more beautiful and people are more awe-inspiring when we recognize the everyday objects and occurrences that are, frankly, miracles (or as Steve Horwitz would put it, "marvels") given how many ideas and goals of people all over the world have gone into them.

Medium.com has published a similar story for a can of Coca-Cola that beautifully captures once again the global interconnectedness that we experience every day through the use and consumption of everyday objects. From the piece:
The number of individuals who know how to make a can of Coke is zero. The number of individual nations that could produce a can of Coke is zero. This famously American product is not American at all. Invention and creation is something we are all in together. Modern tool chains are so long and complex that they bind us into one people and one planet. They are not only chains of tools, they are also chains of minds: local and foreign, ancient and modern, living and dead — the result of disparate invention and intelligence distributed over time and space. Coca-Cola did not teach the world to sing, no matter what its commercials suggest, yet every can of Coke contains humanity’s choir.
Even if you choose to shut your eyes and see nothing of the magic of market coordination in it, the story of how a can of Coke gets to a grocery store is pretty cool. (Though in Canada we don't suffer from protectionism in our sugar industry and our pop would not generally contain high-fructose corn syrup.)